culture

The Seventh Year

How on earth is it September again already? Last I looked it was March.

September 1st seven years ago we began our little adventure over here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time, we thought we might stay a year or two. I remember telling a friend we might even be back within six months, because the company’s contract was currently being renegotiated with the government and nobody could predict how that was going to turn out. Signs weren’t altogether positive as there had been a little skirmish nearby and the spouses had been evacuated while we were packing up our things in Tucson, delaying our departure by a couple of days.

That event passed, the spouses came back just in time to welcome a new one, and seven years later — one signed contract, a couple more evacuations, one global ebola scare (plus lots of local ones that no one abroad ever hears of), seven rainy seasons, zero cases of cholera/yellow fever/typhoid/malaria between us (but numerous giardia flare-ups, two entirely self-inflicted salmonella incidents and one self-diagnosed case of trichinosis), one cancelled presidential election, and one major change in company ownership later — here we still are. It turns out, we’ve not once regretted it. Giardia included.

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Village Visit

Written Monday, January 19

Baby Djeni turned a year old this Saturday. Viviane was hoping she’d start walking sooner than her older brother did, which was a week before his first birthday, just to show how Girls Rule. She’s not walking yet, but she is beating him in another way. She’s talking earlier and much more than he did. (Kind of sums up the difference between girls and boys, doesn’t it?) She chants and sings whenever her mother asks her to, and in perfect pitch with her. I think she’s going to be a lovely little songstress.

Djeni at my house just days before turning one. Could she possibly be any cuter? I’m totally changing my name to match hers.

Djeni at my house just days before turning one. Could she possibly be any cuter? I’m totally changing my name to match hers.

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Bonne Année!

When Seb and I landed at Congo’s second-national airport on the 7th of January, it was a return to very warm weather, friendly faces and familiar sounds. Among the usual chatter of Bonjours and Ça vas were many well-wishes of Bonne Année (Happy New Year). Some of these greetings were politely directed at us, but most of them I overheard amongst the Congolese to each other. The airport is always crowded and chaotic, not just with passengers but with many employees working shoulder-to-shoulder day in and day out. It was these employees I overheard greeting each other even though it was nearly noon, and wishing each other a happy new year even though it was already a week after the holiday.

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Congo River Life

The Kinshasa Orchestra story reminded me of another link a friend sent me shortly after we moved to Congo that I couldn’t check out over there. It’s an NPR series about barging along the Congo River, the second-largest river in Africa after the Nile, and the most powerful one. In fact the hydroelectric potential of this river alone could supply enough electricity for all of sub-Saharan Africa. (Look at a map of Africa and superimpose a map of the USA over the Sahara Desert. Everything below it is sub-Saharan. That’s huge.)

The first story in this 5-part series gives a lot of information in a short time about the history of the Congo. There’s both audio (with some great music!) and text worthwhile to peruse for a good overview of the country. The rest of the stories talk more about what life is like for those on board the barge — some of whom have been there for weeks — and for the villagers living near the river. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a life very different from ours.

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Kinshasa Orchestra

My mom told me about this segment she watched on 60 Minutes shortly after we moved to Congo, but our poor internet connection over there never let me check it out. Last week at a sushi bar here in Arizona, a new acquaintance mentioned she saw it too. So I finally looked it up.

I had no idea that the only symphony orchestra in Central Africa could be found right here in our host country. (One more reason to get up to Kinshasa soon, Seb!) Kinshasa is the capital of the DRC, one of the largest and fastest-growing cities on the continent, despite having zero infrastructure to support such a population. I remember reading about the rich musical history of Congo in Michela Wrong’s excellent book “In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz,” including the sad photo of what she called “one of the last grand pianos in the city” at the declining National Conservatory of Music — a piano missing its third leg, propped up on a chair.

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2 Years in Congo!

Yesterday we celebrated our 2-year anniversary here in DRC. How time flies! This year has been full of adventures — well, after spending the first 3 months of the year in medical quarantine in Florida. (Which was fun in its own way, spending time with Mom & Rudy, then seeing lots of friends & family on a grand U.S. tour.) Seb and I celebrated his birthday in April on the island paradise of Seychelles, followed by a stop in Ethiopia to visit a friend of mine from grad school. Then in June, we brought Seb’s folks from Québec and mine from Kansas to join us for a camping safari in Botswana. Fantastic! There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars hearing lions roar in the distance, while hoping the elephants knocking down trees all night long don’t accidentally step on your tent.

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Elections, Congo-Style

So, this little thing called a presidential election is happening right now in Congo. No big deal. It might be the country’s second democratic election in the last 40 years… it might be happening in a country that is still considered mired in a civil war… and it might be happening on a continent known for less-than-civil civics, short on smooth-running elections overall… but hey, hakuna matata.

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Jambo Bwana

I heard this song recently and it stuck in my head for days.  Last night I asked a social worker here if she knew the song.  Not only could she sing it perfectly, but she wrote down the words for me and gave me my first official Swahili lesson!

Jambo (hello)

Jambo Bwana (hello mister)

Habari Gani? (how are you?)

Musuri Sana! (very well!)

Wageni (visitors)

Mwa Kari Bishwa (you are welcome)

Congo Yetu (Congo is ours)

Hakuna Matata! (no worries!)

The song is originally from Kenya.  Here’s for a little listen.  Beware, it’s very catchy!  http://mwanasimba.online.fr/music/jambo.mp3